By Evangeline Wilby
Conserving biodiversity, protecting species from extinction, and restoring habitats to allow ecosystems to thrive are amongst the key aims of conservation research and ecological scientists. However, saving as much as we can, as quickly as we can may not be the most effective long-term solution. Conservation needs a holistic approach, with interdisciplinary thinking to include an economical, cultural, political, and societal perspective.
Many conservation efforts are the result of external organisations imposing new strategies that can alter the lives and livelihoods of the communities living in the area. Such strategies have been proven relatively ineffective in terms of conservation success but also to have negative impacts on the host societies. If conservation places too great a restriction on people’s livelihoods it results in local resistance and even conflict – as well as being ecologically ineffective (Dawson et al., 2021). For example, there has been conflict between the indigenous people of Brazil and the Brazilian government over environmental issues. Over the last decade, there have been invasions into indigenous land and destruction of the environment, with an anti-environmentalist appointed as the Minister of the Environment (de Carvalho, Goyes & Vegh Weis, 2021).
When looking at land owned by local communities, it can be seen that the management of environmental resources and control over species decline, and pollution is more effective than in areas with strict government-imposed regulations. Indigenous communities, despite representing less than 5% of the world’s population protect over 80% of the earth’s biodiversity across a range of environments and at least one quarter of land is owned and managed by indigenous communities (IPBES, 2019). The local knowledge of the areas is crucial for understanding both the biodiversity present and the connectivity of the ecosystem to best inform certain decisions when problems in the ecosystem arise. By recognising the knowledge, ethics and values of local communities, policymakers can design culturally attuned conservation efforts that will benefit both indigenous people and the environment.
For example, in Tanzania, conservation efforts such as community-based forest management require most input from local residents, but these local residents also get to reap the majority of the profits, the government merely monitors the effort. There is growing evidence that these types of efforts are approved and uptake by local communities is much faster and therefore are the most effective types of conservation efforts (Mascia et al., 2018). Factors that encouraged local participation include having previous farming experience and gaining income from sustainably utilising the produce of the forest (Soraya, 2019). This is in comparison to conservation efforts such as joint forest management where the benefits are shared by both the local communities and the government for which there is evidence of a slower rate of uptake by local people (Mascia et al., 2018). Policy should be written to take account of the local history, patterns, and people of the area, not only because this consideration establishes respect and equality between the government and the local people of the area, but it will also allow initiatives to be designed in optimal ways with the best long term, specific outcomes.
Therefore, the best conservation strategies will be the ones where the government can work alongside indigenous people to help empower them and achieve national and nationwide conservation goals. This could include interventions with particular focus, such as introducing the local environment and how to protect it into schools through the national curriculum globally from a very early age. Additionally, information provision and the promotion of local conservation projects where local residents will directly benefit from the project are likely to have better reception than introducing restrictions in policies that do not consider the values of the people in the communities. Many counties have their own sustainability goals, for example, Fiji has a National Development Plan (The Fijian Government, 2017) containing specific aims to reduce carbon emissions and how this can be tackled locally. If each country or even region was to take the responsibility to locally tackle its environmental issues with such a community-based focus (Lyver et al., 2017), it would have a very positive impact globally and would, for example, help to achieve many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, 2016). The importance of clear communication and dialogue between indigenous people and the state is therefore critical for the inclusive protection and harmonisation of both the environment and the people of the earth.
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de Carvalho, S., Goyes, D. R. & Vegh Weis, V. (2021) Politics and Indigenous Victimization: The Case of Brazil. British Journal of Criminology. 61 (1), 251-271. Available from: doi: 10.1093/bjc/azaa060.
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Soraya, D. (2019) CBFM (Community based forest management) participation and perceptions, a case study in Malang, Indonesia, University of Missouri, Available from: DOI: https://hdl.handle.net/10355/70124
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